Entrepreneurship At and After Yale: A Profile of a Braedon Wong ’24 and Zach DeWitt ’09

Jessai Flores

“[At the SOM] we have a great set of classes related to entrepreneurship taught by clinical instructors who either study entrepreneurship as academics or have been themselves businessmen. “The classes extend to university systems and that’s great,” says Professor Kyle Jensen. “So it’s definitely different from other universities. It is better than most and different from the others.”

There is also Tsai City, Yale’s premier business center. They have various programs like Startup Yale – application date is March 20, 2023 – which provides capital to Yale startups up to $25,000 if they are selected, and LaunchPad a startup incubator , helping to take early stage founders to the next level with their capabilities. risky. They also offer working hours for everyone who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur. Yale in general has also been investing more and more in entrepreneurship lately.

But there’s still a lot of uncertainty about being an entrepreneur. After all, the finance and consulting industry is a lot more stable and it’s hard to turn down a $600k salary. Yalies also tend to do many different things. Therefore, I decided to look into entrepreneurship at Yale and after Yale, profiling both Yale alumni and Yale students.

Yale Alumni Zach DeWitt

Zach DeWitt ’09 is now a VC partner at Wing. He is a serial entrepreneur who founded Drop Inc and launched Drop Messages and Firefly after leaving Yale.

Drop Messages is a location-based messaging app that won the TechCrunch Boston Pitchoff, and Firefly is a location-sharing app. Both were acquired by Snapchat for an undisclosed amount in 2017.

DeWitt also writes about the popularity of product-driven growth, highlighting the best public and private PLG companies in his weekly newsletter, Notorious PLG, and podcast host Innovalters.

He’s always been a tinkerer, but he founded his first company while at Yale in 2008.

“That was before social media, and I started a business with some friends, where we were hired to host parties or, you know, sorority parties, fraternity parties, birthday parties. .

It was a success, and with that experience, he went on to start another company in his senior year, which predicted a student’s grade in a class based on the scores of other students. That project also blew up across campus.

He then worked for a few years at Goldman Sachs and TPG Capital, then attended Harvard Business School. While at TPG, he started a Drop Inc business.

“It’s a way to move away from digital content and physical locations,” he said. “Like, I can leave you a drop like social media, I can leave you a drop at the Yale cafeteria, New Haven airport, or your favorite restaurant. And when you get there, whether it’s tonight, tomorrow or a year from now, that’s when your phone rings and you get that stuff.”

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DeWitt decided to drop the MBA program and dedicate it full time.

“We ended up winning this big TechCrunch offering and had a terms sheet the next day, and raised venture capital from Spark capital and projects,” he said. The business was successful, and two years later, it was acquired by Snapchat.

After that experience, he started working at Wing Ventures.

His only regret, however, is not starting sooner with a full-time job and starting multiple companies in his twenties. In the current climate, he said, it’s a golden era for startups, even if you fail.

“Failure is accepted and really encouraged,” he said. “If you have one startup that fails, chances are you will raise money from your same investor for a second one, which is very rare in the world and we are in the middle of nowhere. where in the history of time. like, it’s a very unique property.

In addition, the cost of setting up a company has been greatly reduced with the introduction of modular services like AWS, along with the expanding results of an acquisition or merger. So there’s really no reason not to start a company.

“I encourage anyone thinking of doing business at Yale, to lean on that and start a company, you know, right after their first job, or even right out of college.” I said.

Yale has certainly helped him when it comes to entrepreneurship, but DeWitt still feels there are things the University can improve on. He said that the current setup still seems too tight-lipped and that communication between departments could be improved.

“I think Yale should make people a lot more flexible when they are starting a company as an undergraduate,” he said. “I think Yale should connect more with their previous successful founders, like Max Rhodes, my classmate and friend at Yale. He founded Faire, you know, a $12 billion startup that’s doing really well right now. Yale should bring him back to talk on campus and should really get him involved as much as he’s willing to do and give back his time and mentorship.”

“I think when I was at Yale, they invited a lot of journalists and politicians to come and that was interesting and important. But I also think they should bring an even number of founders, both successful and unsuccessful, to see the big picture and hear the stories and ups and downs. Beginners get more exposure and get people excited. You know, let people know that it’s okay to fail. And that they should take risks in their 20s.”

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He suggests that current Yale students looking to become entrepreneurs should look for mentors among Yale alumni.

“You know, use that student email address @yale.edu,” he said. “And reach out to alumni and find someone you admire, that could be an entrepreneur in a field that interests you, right? You know, if you’re excited about fashion, reach out to the founder of fashion at Yale or contact one of the founders of Rent the Runway or the founder of Glossier and see if they can advise and help. help you. That’s the first place to start when you have someone who believes in you and is willing to take the time to help you. That’s really confident enough for you to take the leap and start exploring areas. And you know what I’m going to say: don’t rush if you don’t have a great idea right now. You are still young. Just go to work for a company in that space. “

Braden Wong’s Profile

Braden Wong ’24 is a final year student studying Ethics, Politics and Economics with a certificate in Computer Science. He is from Southern California.

He’s built a range of apps for Yale students, from the Yale Buttery Book, which lets you look up menus for different types of butter and what apps are open, to Meal Match, which lets you pair Pair up with other students on campus so you can dine together. He also built Janktable, which allows you to easily see which course reviews are good and which are not. Currently, he’s trying to get all the different avocado apps on the same page so they can agree on a sharing protocol, which he plans to release after the Winter Break.

Wong first coded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I locked myself in my room and started coding more,” he says. “I barely knew any coding on how to build something until my first year of college. And it’s crazy how fast you can learn anything just based on YouTube and a few tutorials. It’s basically the main site for everything.”

He says that his most important skill, and one that he says is indispensable for an entrepreneur or builder, is “the skill of trying to turn any idea you have into reality.” reality as quickly as possible.”

For the book Yale Buttery, the idea came to him around Halloween, and he spent Halloween night just coding it.

“My roommate rode his bike in the rain and got wet to bring me a laptop so I could continue coding,” he said.

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JankTable takes a little longer. The idea came to him when he was just walking around. “I’m almost obsessed with the idea of ​​’I really wish I could go through reviews so much faster and just figure out which course even has good reviews.”

So during the October break, while he was on a trip with his friends on the East Coast, he started reverse engineering the API requests on Yale.

He said: “I was just glued to my computer, my friends said, ‘You should put your laptop away, relax a bit and enjoy the October break’.

Despite his successful projects, he still considers himself a builder rather than an entrepreneur.

“I shy away from the label a little bit,” he said. “I think sometimes being called an entrepreneur, on its own, can be a bit uncomfortable, because ideally, if you’re a good entrepreneur, you call yourself X founder or founder. founded Y, something that you actually built. name right? There’s a lot of noise, with people calling themselves entrepreneurs, because there’s a lot of people building a bunch of things, but none of them succeed.”

He says that if he didn’t have to worry about money, he would spend his life building Legos and other projects every day.

“It’s not always possible for me to do it, because the world isn’t a perfect place, but at least, while I’m here on campus, I can make some stuff that other people don’t. might find it useful,” he said. speak.

He sees apps as useful tools for students as well, rather than a direct benefit. “A lot of students at Yale hope to lead quite impressive lives. And so even the ability to help influence or make their lives a little easier, maybe even 20 people’s lives a little easier… I think that’s a huge success. Or they take a slightly different course, and then their life trajectory changes.

He also said that “the best thing to do is to start building as soon as possible. The best time you could have done it was yesterday. You should do it today. It was the second best time.”

He sees himself in the short term at least sticking to software engineering, but in the future he plans to work in the policy field.

“A lot of code generation tools and AI will help people be more productive,” he said. “I think in general it will only get easier for people who want to build something or people who want to code but don’t know how yet.”


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